Raising Special Needs Children
Nothing can prepare parents for the challenges of raising a special needs child. Most of the regular child-raising issues still apply, but there are also many things that will be unique to the situation.
Adding to these unique considerations is the emotional component that must not be overlooked. Families must recognize their personal stress levels and consider parental self-compassion as a necessary part of family-focused care.
1. Know Your Child’s Needs
When your child has special needs, you will have more than the typical parenting worries to contend with. For example, if they have trouble communicating with you due to their disability, you will need to develop new ways to communicate with them and listen to what they say. You will also need to help them develop socially and emotionally by promoting strong self-esteem and encouraging resiliency.
While your child’s disability may be a significant challenge, it is also a gift that you can use to teach them how to love and accept themselves and others. It is important to focus on their strengths, not the things they can’t do.
For example, if your child has trouble sleeping, you may be tempted to put them in a specialized sleep aide, but it is also important to encourage healthy coping skills through sleep, relaxation and fun activities. It is also critical to give your children a chance to assume increasing degrees of responsibility and independence, which will build their sense of competence and self-worth.
Another key to meeting your child’s needs is to know their basic developmental milestones, and when they are not meeting them. Observing them on a regular basis can give you insight into their progress and provide an opportunity to offer additional support or learning tools. However, it is essential to remember that every child is different and some may take longer to reach certain milestones than others.
Similarly, you will need to learn what they enjoy and do best on a daily basis. This can be a great source of pleasure for both of you. For instance, if your child loves music or art, you can plan activities to engage their interests on a regular basis.
The same is true of physical activity, which can be a great form of exercise for both of you. Finally, you will need to find support and help for yourself, and this isn’t necessarily limited to a professional caregiver. For example, many parents of special needs children find that connecting with other families who have similar experiences is a helpful way to gain perspective and share tips on caring for their child.
2. Understand Your Own Needs
You can’t meet a child’s special needs alone. Parents, siblings, and family members also need support to care for themselves and help their children. Creating a supportive community can improve health and wellbeing for everyone involved.
Be mindful of your own words and actions to prevent stigma around disabilities and special needs. Avoid using euphemistic phrases like “those kids” or the word “disabled.” They can make people feel ashamed or uncomfortable about their differences. Instead, use respectful language and focus on a person’s abilities, not their limitations.
Kids with special needs often have a variety of challenges that may not be immediately apparent. For example, a kid might have anxiety or be easily overwhelmed by sensory input. These are problems that might only be visible to a close friend or relative, but you can still help. For example, if you see a child struggling to cope with a crowd, be a good buddy and invite them to your home or another quiet space.
Kids are sometimes more comfortable discussing their problems in school, so talking openly with a teacher or staff member can be a great first step. Kids can even ask for help from family members, therapists, or social workers.
In addition to addressing kids’ educational needs, it’s important to consider their other physical, emotional, and intellectual needs. For example, some children can’t communicate verbally, so a parent might need to sign or use other forms of communication. Other kids might be unable to move or walk on their own, so they might need adaptive equipment such as braces or a wheelchair.
Students with special needs can benefit from positive modifications to their learning environment that dovetail with their strengths. For example, a student with ADHD who learns best by moving can have a stability ball to jiggle on while reading or doing math. Likewise, a student who likes to humorously mimic others can be encouraged by having an aide join them during socialization. Providing these opportunities can give kids with special needs more images of themselves as successful adults and promote acceptance of their differences.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Caring for a child with special needs is stressful. The revolving door of medical professionals in and out of the house, the worry about financing supplies, equipment, or nursing support is just one part of the picture. Parents who are the primary caregivers of children with special needs often experience burnout or even depression. In addition, the constant stress can lead to physical problems like heart disease.
It’s important for parents to take care of themselves so they can be the best caregivers for their children. However, finding the time can be a challenge with laundry to wash, meals to cook, and other kids to care for. But taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be expensive or leisurely – even just scheduling 15 – 30 minutes each day for “me” time can make a big difference in your mood and ability to manage your child’s challenges.
Another way to help yourself feel better is to find support. This can be as simple as asking friends for help or finding local or online support groups for special needs parents. These groups can be a great place to share your feelings, get advice, and connect with others who are walking a similar parenting journey.
Siblings of children with special needs can also be a source of support for their parents. In addition, finding opportunities for their siblings to be socially active can help to reduce frustration and loneliness. This can be as simple as setting up playdates with a neighbor or finding a recreational activity that allows siblings to interact with others.
Managing your emotions, seeking support and connecting with other parents can all help to prevent burnout and ensure that you have the energy you need to meet your child’s needs. By putting your own needs first, you can avoid the risk of caregiver burnout and be a happier, more present parent.
You may also want to consider putting respite care in place. Respite care is a service that provides temporary relief to families by allowing them to temporarily take a break from the responsibilities of caring for their child. It can include a stay at a respite center, an in-home nurse, or just someone to watch your child while you run errands or do something for yourself.
4. Find Support
Children with special needs require a lot of time, energy and in many cases money. This often means that their siblings can get overlooked, especially when it comes to attention and extracurricular activities. While it’s natural for some sibling resentment to occur, parents can help prevent this by making sure their other children are not being neglected.
Siblings of children with special needs can benefit from having a positive role model. They can also learn how to help and support their siblings, which can give them a sense of purpose. Children with a sense of purpose tend to have more positive outcomes in school and later in life.
A support system is essential for parents of special needs children, and it can take many forms. One option is to join a special needs parenting group. These groups are filled with parents who understand the unique challenges of raising a child with a disability, and they can offer support and advice.
Another way to find support is through local special needs organizations and charities. Many of these organizations provide grants to cover the costs of medical equipment, travel expenses and at-home care. They can also connect families with social workers who can assist them in navigating the healthcare system and finding resources.
It’s also important for families to reach out to each other for support. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as by sharing stories online or at meetings. It’s also a good idea for families to seek out professional counseling. Many families who have a child with special needs may find themselves feeling depressed or anxious, and this can have a negative impact on their overall well-being.
Lastly, it’s important for families to find a balance between work and family life. It’s not uncommon for parents of special needs children to put their careers on hold while they focus on caring for their child. If this is the case, it’s a good idea for parents to find a flexible workplace that can allow them to adjust their schedule as needed.